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Volume 38 Issue 10 • July 3 - 9, 2008
now in our 38th season

Heaven and Earth
Bobby Frazier's Nantucket

by Marli Guzzetta

When painting a picture of Nantucket in their minds, most people reach instinctively for the grey to fill in houses and fog, or blue to color the ocean. But island artist Bobby Frazier champions all the juicy and underrepresented hues of the island landscapes he's loved since his mother, Barbara Brown Frazier, painted here as a member of the bygone Arts Colony.

With citrusy reds and oranges, Frazier's newest series is like an inoculation against rickets of the eyes, as he draws out lesser witnessed stories in the Nantucket landscape: a dead tree that stands amid a field of thriving trees at sunset, a moonlight clearing that's opened like a footpath for giants, or a star shooting over a row of dusklit telephone polls standing like sentinels in a field.

"I'm attracted to these open vistas. I do a lot of big sky pictures," said Frazier, who took time off from gardening to chat about the work he's been doing for his upcoming show at Old Spouter. "I'm attracted to high color and high contrast."

Originally from Ayer, Mass., Frazier decamped to Nantucket in the mid-1970s, when he began his career as an oil painter. He's served as the president of the Artist Association of Nantucket and, currently, as its Gallery Director.


Moors Moonlight

Last summer, Frazier explored luminosity with his series of cloudscapes. Though he has returned to the land for his upcoming "Open Land, Open Water" show, he has been studying 19th century Australian impressionists' technique of imagining an elevated perspective on the landscape.

"As a plein air painter, I tend to be at a ground level perspective," Frazier said, "But when you have varying levels of height and depth, you can really move between lighter colors to those deeper purples and blues you get as you move higher and deeper into the landscape."

At the Tom Nevers home he shares with wife and lightship basket artisan Karol, Frazier keeps books on Arthur Streeton and other Australian impressionists handy, alongside sea shells and cookbooks and a sleepy orange cat that rubs his face along stationary legs. Frazier's completed paintings rest in the living room, next to works by centuries of Nantucket artists including his mother.

Lately, Frazier has been adopting his mother's palette knife technique, as well as painting on board. "You can really move paint around on the board," he said. "I like that. It's more exciting and allows your texture to move."

Movement is an important component of what Frazier does, both when he puts his brushes to the canvas and beforehand. As a plein air painter, he is intimately acquainted with the island's skin and its seas, trekking out to private vistas to paint, or even just for private time with his wife. After a long day of work, he and Karol will make a break for the harbor and set the sail for a few hours to clear their heads.

Frazier pays extra attention to the movement and structure of the island's lesser-known locales. In "Moors Path and Moonlight," he shares a secret view of a huge pass through a dirt road. "It looks like someone carved this passage out," Frazier said. "I always liked that kind of drama."

Insofar as Frazier appreciates having a unique perspective on Nantucket, it makes sense that he would — after all these years of documenting it — have to begin painting from high vantage points that need to be imagined. This subtle marriage of observation and imagination hints at one of Frazier's other, but lesser known, passions.

A founding member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, Frazier edited and published The Speculative Poetry Review, one of the earliest magazines of SF poetry. He's also written historical articles on the evolution of science fiction poetry, including a 2005 primer on the Rhysling Awards for the poetry anthology, The Alchemy of Stars, the Rhysling Award Winners Showcase. He has won the Rhysling Award three times — for Best Long Poem in 1994, and for Best Short Poem in 1980 and 1989. A collaborative poem he penned with Bruce Boston, Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest, also received first place in the 2006 Locus Online Poetry Poll for Best All-Time Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror Poem.

In terms of Frazier's creative process, as small connection exists between his work as a sci-fi writer and the paintings in his "Open Land, Open Water" show.

"As a plein air painter, I'm generally working with what's in front of me," Frazier said. "But with the more recent work, I'm using my imagination to levitate to add distance and that sense of the bigger sky that we all see here, but takes some imagination to paint unless you're hiring a helicopter."

"Bobby's work is very immediate. You can feel through the brush strokes, the energy. It's almost impasto, and that gives it a lively look," said Old Spouter Gallery Kathleen Walsh said. "A lot of people can relate to it. It's a friendly kind of painting. It's approachable."

The artist suspects he will be drawing out more astronomical elements in his work, but in the mean time, he still can't shake the color of the land and sea.

"Now and then, I'll paint a scene downtown, but I really find that I'm attracted to pieces that are out on the moors and on open waters," the artist mused. "There's a lot of subtlety in the Nantucket landscape. And yet also a lot of boldness and color. The juxtaposition inspires me."

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